broccoli, onions, tomatoes and peppers displayed at a market

The Benefits Of Seasonal Eating For Heart Health

In pursuit of optimal heart health, the American Heart Association recommends consuming at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. While meeting this guideline is crucial, the quality of these choices matters just as much as the quantity. One effective way to achieve this goal is by prioritizing seasonal fruits and vegetables that are grown as close to you as possible.

Let’s delve into the reasons why eating seasonal produce is a wise choice. We’ll explore the bounty of fruits and vegetables typically available in September in both the northern and southern hemispheres, and provide some nutrient-dense recipes that showcase these seasonal delights.

The Importance of Seasonal Eating

When aiming to meet the AHA’s recommendation, it’s not just about the number of servings consumed, it’s about making each serving count. Seasonal fruits and vegetables have a unique advantage in this regard. Not only are they rich in essential nutrients, but they also offer a myriad of benefits for both personal health and the environment.

1. Nutritional Superiority 

Seasonal produce is harvested at its peak ripeness, ensuring it is bursting with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients play a vital role in supporting heart health by reducing inflammation, boosting immunity, and promoting overall well-being.

2. Enhanced Flavor and Taste 

The natural ripening process of seasonal produce enhances its flavor and taste. Consuming fruits and vegetables when they’re at their prime ensures a delightful and satisfying culinary experience.

3. Cost Efficiency 

Buying seasonal produce is often more cost-effective due to the abundance of supply. This not only helps you manage your budget but also supports local farmers and economies.

4. Environmental Impact 

Opting for local, seasonal produce reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation and refrigeration. By eating foods that are naturally available in your region, you contribute to a more sustainable food system.

5. Connection to Nature 

Eating with the seasons fosters a deeper connection with the environment and an appreciation for the cycles of nature. It encourages mindfulness about the foods we eat and the resources they require.

6. Support for Local Agriculture 

Choosing seasonal produce supports local farmers and promotes agricultural diversity. This contributes to the preservation of farmland and the resilience of local food systems.

September’s Bounty in the Northern Hemisphere

As summer gradually gives way to fall in the northern hemisphere, September brings with it a delightful array of seasonal produce that perfectly complements the changing weather.


Bursting with vitamin C and antioxidants like lycopene, tomatoes are not only flavorful but also supportive of heart health. Try them in salads, salsas, or as a base for soups and sauces.


Vibrant bell peppers and spicy chili peppers are packed with vitamin C and various antioxidants. They add a burst of color and flavor to stir-fries, salads, and grilled dishes.


Rich in dietary fiber and quercetin, apples are an excellent choice for snacking or adding to both sweet and savory recipes.

Broccoli and Cauliflower 

These cruciferous vegetables are a source of vitamins C and K, as well as fiber and sulforaphane—a compound known for its potential heart-protective effects.

Brussels Sprouts 

As the weather cools, Brussels sprouts come into their own. They offer a healthy dose of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.

Berries (Raspberries, Blackberries) 

These antioxidant-rich fruits can be enjoyed as a nutritious snack, a topping for yogurt, or incorporated into smoothies.

September’s Harvest in the Southern Hemisphere

In the southern hemisphere, September marks the transition from winter to spring, offering a renewed variety of fresh produce.

Citrus Fruits 

Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and lemons are a treasure trove of vitamin C and other antioxidants. Enjoy them as a tangy addition to salads, juices, or as a snack.


Creamy avocados are a source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Mash them onto whole-grain toast or use them to create guacamole.

Spinach and Lettuce 

Leafy greens are abundant and provide essential nutrients like vitamins A and K, iron, and fiber. Create salads or use them as a base for wraps.

Nutrient-Dense Seasonal Recipes to Savor

Here are some delicious, heart-healthy recipes to help you get the most out of this season’s fresh local produce.

Tomato and Basil Salad

   Combine fresh tomatoes, basil leaves, red onion, and mozzarella cheese. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Apple and Walnut Salad

   Toss crisp apple slices with mixed greens, toasted walnuts, crumbled feta cheese, and a light vinaigrette dressing.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

   Toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil, garlic, and a touch of maple syrup. Roast in the oven until golden and crispy.

Citrus Avocado Salad

   Combine segments of citrus fruits with avocado slices, red onion, and arugula. Drizzle with a lemon vinaigrette.

Adhering to the American Heart Association’s recommendation of five daily servings of fruits and vegetables is a powerful step toward nurturing your heart health. By embracing the concept of seasonal eating, you not only amplify the nutritional benefits of these foods but also contribute to a more sustainable and ecologically responsible food system. September offers a diverse range of produce in both the northern and southern hemispheres, giving us the opportunity to indulge in nutrient-dense and flavorful recipes that align with the rhythm of nature. So, as the seasons shift, let your plate mirror the vibrant changes around you as you relish the delicious and heart-healthy offerings of this month.

What is Heart Rate Variability and Why Does it Matter?

You may have seen or heard references to the term “heart rate variability” and that it’s a way of assessing one’s heart health. But you’re probably wondering what it is, how you can measure it and what it implies for your health and lifestyle. Let’s explore all of this and more.

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the variation in time intervals between successive heartbeats. In other words, it’s the changes in the time gap between one heartbeat and the next. Let’s use an example. Say your heart rate is 60 beats per minute. That doesn’t mean your heart is necessarily beating exactly once every second. The time between each beat can vary slightly. The difference in the time between each beat is called heart rate variability. 

Why Does Heart Rate Variability Matter?

HRV is an important measure of the activity of your autonomic nervous system, particularly the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. The autonomic nervous system is the part of the peripheral nervous system that controls involuntary processes in our body, like heart rate, digestion, and respiratory rate. Here’s how it works:

1. Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS): This is often called the “fight or flight” system. When you’re stressed or faced with a threat, your SNS gets activated, leading to increased heart rate and readiness for action.

2. Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS): This is known as the “rest and digest” system. It helps you relax, recover, and conserve energy. When you’re at ease and feeling safe, the PNS dominates, leading to a slower heart rate and improved digestion.

Both branches are continuously active, but their balance shifts based on your current state, emotions, and environment. This is where heart rate variability comes into play.

High vs Low Heart Rate Variability

Higher HRV is generally considered a sign of good heart health and better adaptability to stress. When your heart rate varies more between beats, it indicates a higher parasympathetic tone and a flexible and responsive autonomic nervous system. This means your body can quickly switch between being alert and being calm, depending on the situation. This adaptability is essential for maintaining overall health and resilience.

On the other hand, lower HRV is associated with a lower parasympathetic tone, which correlates with various health issues and increased stress levels. Reduced HRV may be linked to chronic stress, anxiety, and certain heart conditions.

How and Why to Monitor Your Heart Rate Variability

Monitoring heart rate variability can offer valuable insights into your overall well-being, stress levels, and cardiovascular health. In a medical setting, HRV is measured using an EKG, but these days there are numerous trackers available for personal use. Measuring and monitoring your heart rate variability over time is a useful way to receive feedback on your body’s response to different situations and activities.

So, the next time you hear about heart rate variability, remember that it’s all about the beautiful dance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems – keeping your heart adaptable, healthy, and in tune with your emotions and environment. And if your measurements indicate that your heart rate variability is reduced or is lowering over time, consult a medical professional to help you devise strategies to improve your baseline and optimise your HRV.

The Paradox of Self-Love: Embracing Your Body for Better Heart Health

In today’s society, there’s an overwhelming focus on achieving a certain body weight, shape or size. We’re continually bombarded with messages that tell us we must change our bodies to fit into a narrowly defined notion of beauty. But it’s important to recognize that there’s an important dynamic that exists within the journey towards weight- and health management: paradoxically, loving and respecting your body as it is, becomes the first step to treating it well and ultimately arriving at better health, including a healthy weight.

Embracing Self-Acceptance: Nurturing Your Body as it is

Embracing your body as it is right now does not mean complacency or resignation. Instead, it involves shifting your mindset and developing a positive relationship with your body. When you love and respect your body, you’re more inclined to listen to its needs and make choices that promote overall health and well-being.

One of the key aspects of loving and respecting your body is practicing self-acceptance. This means recognizing that your worth is not determined by your appearance, but rather by your inherent value as a human being. It involves acknowledging that your body is unique and deserving of love and care, regardless of its size or shape.

When you embrace self-acceptance, you are more likely to engage in behaviors that support your overall health. Rather than punishing your body with restrictive diets or excessive exercise, you prioritize nourishing it with balanced meals, regular physical activity, and sufficient rest. You approach these practices from a place of self-care and self-compassion, rather than from a position of self-criticism or shame.

Listening to Your Body’s Wisdom: Honoring Hunger, Fullness, and Movement

Furthermore, when you love and respect your body, you become more attuned to its signals and messages. You develop a deeper understanding of its hunger and fullness cues, as well as its need for movement and rest. By listening to your body’s natural wisdom, you are better equipped to make choices that align with its needs, leading to a healthier relationship with food and exercise.

Contrastingly, when you approach weight loss or achieving a specific body size from a place of self-hatred or dissatisfaction, it often leads to a cycle of unhealthy behaviors. Restrictive diets, extreme exercise regimens, and constant self-criticism can result in negative physical and emotional consequences. This approach often leads to short-term results, if any, and a perpetual cycle of yo-yo dieting.

Treating your body well is not about conforming to societal standards or chasing an unrealistic ideal. It is about recognizing that your body deserves to be cared for and nurtured, regardless of its size or shape. When you approach health and weight management from a place of self-love and respect, you are more likely to make sustainable, long-term changes that promote overall well-being.

The True Definition of Health: A Holistic Approach to Well-Being

It is important to remember that health is not solely determined by a number on the scale. It encompasses physical, mental, and emotional well-being. By embracing self-love and self-acceptance, you create the foundation for a holistic approach to health. As you treat your body with kindness and respect, you naturally gravitate towards behaviors that support its overall health and balance.

Loving and respecting your body as it is becomes the first step towards treating it well and achieving a healthy weight, which will help to improve your heart health. Embracing self-acceptance and practicing self-care allow you to make choices that support your body’s needs and promote overall well-being. Remember, your worth is not defined by your appearance, but rather by the love and care you show yourself.

How to Get a Good Night’s Rest: The Science of Quality Sleep

Sleep plays a vital role in maintaining our overall well-being, not least of all when it comes to heart health. There are several practices we can incorporate into our daily routines, to optimize our sleep and support the well-being of our hearts. Let’s explore some strategies to prioritize restful nights and promote a healthy heart.

1. Establish a Consistent Sleep Routine

One of the most effective ways to optimize your sleep is to establish a consistent sleep routine. Our bodies have a built-in internal clock known as the circadian rhythm, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. By going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (including weekends!) you can align your sleep patterns with your natural circadian rhythms. This regularity helps to synchronize various physiological processes – including heart function – and promotes better sleep quality.

2. Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment

Your sleep environment plays a crucial role in the quality of your sleep. Make your bedroom a sanctuary for relaxation and rest. Keep the room cool, dark, and quiet when it’s time for sleep. Consider using earplugs, an eye mask, or a white noise machine if necessary. Invest in a comfortable mattress, pillows, and bedding that suits your preferences. By creating a soothing environment, you can optimize your sleep and enhance your heart health.

3. Limit Exposure to Electronic Devices

Electronic devices are undoubtedly an integral part of our daily lives. But the blue light emitted by these devices can disrupt our sleep patterns. Blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Minimize exposure to electronic screens like smartphones, tablets, and computers, at least one hour before bedtime. Instead, consider relaxing activities like reading a book or listening to calming music to prepare your mind for sleep.

4. Engage in Regular Physical Activity

Regular exercise not only benefits your heart health but also promotes better sleep. Engaging in physical activity during the day helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle and promote restful nights. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week. However, you should try to avoid vigorous exercise too close to bedtime, as it can increase alertness and make it harder to fall asleep.

5. Manage Stress and Relax Before Bed

Stress and anxiety can significantly impact the quality of your sleep. It’s important to develop effective stress management techniques to unwind before bedtime. Consider incorporating relaxation practices such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or gentle stretching into your evening routine. These activities help to calm the mind, reduce stress levels, and prepare your body for a restful night’s sleep.

6. Avoid Stimulants and Heavy Meals Before Bed

Certain substances can interfere with your sleep. Avoid consuming caffeine or nicotine in the evening. They act as stimulants, and can disrupt your sleep pattern. Additionally, heavy meals close to bedtime can lead to indigestion and discomfort, making it harder to fall asleep. Opt for light, nutritious snacks if needed and allow ample time for digestion before going to bed.

Sleep is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle, particularly for maintaining heart health. Establishing a consistent sleep routine, creating a sleep-friendly environment, limiting electronic device usage, engaging in regular exercise, managing stress, and avoiding stimulants before bed can significantly enhance the quality of our sleep. Prioritizing restful nights is a key factor in promoting a healthy heart and overall well-being. Sweet dreams!

Managing my stress as part of a blood pressure control strategy

by Lewis C Howe

In the two months since I received a wake-up call about my high blood pressure, I have made a concerted effort to lose weight, eat less salt, and consume smaller portions of my healthier food options. On the advice and prodding of my doctor, I’ve even signed up for a home sleep study, in order to rule out sleep apnea as a contributing cause of my hypertension.

But one area in which I still struggle is the daily fight against a high stress lifestyle, and its detrimental effects on my health.

In addition to working for the Heart of a Giant Foundation I also maintain a full time job as a peer service navigator for persons in recovery. All this while trying to assist my 3 sons – 2 of whom are in college – with their needs, financial and otherwise.

So stress management is a key component of my overall healthy living strategy. For example, what do you do when your son’s travel soccer team sends you a bill for $800, due within a week, and you don’t get paid for ten days? Or what if your elderly father’s cancer has a recurrence the same day that two of your work clients are arrested and sent back to the county House of Correction?

Without the proper mindset and commitment to mental self-care, moments like these can send one running for the nearest donut shop or takeout stand. Stress management remains my biggest hurdle to controlling my blood pressure, and by extension my overall heart health.

Among the ways I try to reduce stress without turning to damaging habits are

In modern life, stress is always with us, especially if we have money issues, or have endured the death of a parent or been divorced. If we are to manage stress, and reduce harm to our heart brought on by these pressures, it is critical to find what activities can keep you calm, and to carve out regular time on your calendar, just as you would for a staff meeting or time with your clients.

This is not easy, but living a healthy life gets more difficult if we let our stress manage us, instead of the other way around. I’d love to hear how you handle your stressful life as a means of keeping your blood pressure down. Please pass along your ideas!

About the author:

Lewis Howe is the Community Partnerships Co-Ordinator for the Heart of a Giant Foundation. He welcomes your ideas, suggestions and expressions of support to help him in his fight against high blood pressure. You can reach him at